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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

The choice Democrats must make

The House majority can focus energy on impeachment - or the needs of America.

President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up on Monday

President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up on Monday as he arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Photo Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Why is it that when the question of whether House Democrats should bring articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump is posed, there never seems to be an “or” in the equation?

The real issue is whether there are better things they could be doing for the nation.

What stands out most about the impeachment of Bill Clinton was how all-encompassing it was. The investigation and hearings in 1998 were a black hole that sucked the energy from governance for years. Bill and Hillary. Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. Vernon Jordan and Paula Jones and Ken Starr and Betty Currie.

It was mind-numbing and divisive, and it brutalized our national conversation. We will never know what could have been accomplished if the time and energy had been expended on other efforts.

The right way for Democrats to frame the question today is, “Should we: A) push for articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump? Or B) devote the next 18 months to writing and passing bills to address and solve the difficult, time-sensitive challenges confronting this nation?”

And barring any huge, new and provable revelations about the conduct of our president, working to solve problems is probably the best thing for the country, and the best hope for Democrats hoping to win in 2020.

Think about what isn’t getting fixed by our legislators. Think about what hasn’t been fixed by them for decades. Think about how much worse many of these problems get the longer they wait.

Devising solutions is what elected officials can and must do to move the nation forward. And crafting such bills is a win-win. If Trump and congressional Republicans won’t get on board, Democrats can embarrass them at the polls. If Trump and Republicans did get on board (and they might if they fear for their careers), progress might be made and problems might be solved.

Tuesday morning, the news reports, convulsed with Trump and anti-Trump reactions, should have been dominated by the warning: Social Security is going to go broke in 2035, and Medicare is going to run out of money in 2026.

That’s seven years from now.

That’s what Democrats ought to focus on.

Social Security is not even a difficult fix mathematically. An increase in payroll taxes of about 1 percent for both employers and workers would ensure its solvency well into the future. Medicare is a more expensive problem that would require a bigger tax hike, perhaps on the corporations that got such a huge cut in 2017. We also need to have a serious conversation about the huge and pointless sums the nation spends on terminal patients in the final weeks of life. But we have to do it now. Both problems become mathematically much harder to fix each year we wait.

Americans want their social safety net safe. The party with a real plan has the upper hand, even if the plan does not become law immediately.

The same logic holds true for fixing our nation’s roads, bridges and tunnels. Civil engineers estimate the nation needs to spend $3.5 trillion to upgrade our infrastructure. If we don’t, the cost will climb, our economy will suffer, inconvenience will mount and people will die.

We must address global warming, immigration, education, affordable health care and drug addiction, and a dozen other things. They need our attention.

Word the question properly: “Should Democrats focus their energy on finding solutions to our problems or paralyze the nation with a quixotic attempt at impeachment?”

We know from experience that the nation can’t do both.

 Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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